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FedEx enlists the help of a robot army to compete with Amazon

Using the IoT is a natural extension of FedEx’s core business of moving physical objects from one place to another and tracking their progress at every step of the journey.

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In hindsight, it was perfectly predictable.

Amazon, which has become the world’s largest e-commerce business, ships a lot of packages.

If you look at the history of the company, a distinct pattern emerges: When it discovers it’s good at something, it proceeds to disrupt established businesses that do the same thing. It did it with books, when its Kindle e-reading platform tore into the traditional paper publishing business. It did it with cloud computing, when it launched Amazon Web Services to compete with behemoths like Google, Microsoft, and IBM.

The formula has repeated itself with hardware, like tablets and streaming media sticks, and digital goods like music and movies.

It’s most ambitious move however, might be its most recent one: Logistics.

Disrupting Logistics

Now, two years after its launch, Amazon Logistics is perched on the edge of disrupting not just one business, but an entire industry, which includes UPS, FedEx, and the US Postal Service.

To meet this challenge, FedEx is responding by digging deep into Amazon’s traditional strength: Digitalization — specifically, robotic automation, and the IoT.

Using the IoT is a natural extension of FedEx’s core business of moving physical objects from one place to another and tracking their progress at every step of the journey. Its SenseAware — a device that provides near-real time data on packages for factors like location, relative humidity, temperature and light exposure — is seen as a key competitive advantage over its rivals.

“We have long known that information about the package was as important as the package itself,” Ed Clarke, Managing Director of Hub Operations for FedEx Express UK, recently told supplychaindigital.com. For customers like pharmaceutical manufacturers, being able to track the temperature of a shipment of vaccines, could literally mean the difference between life and death.

On the robotics front, the company faces a steeper climb. It has been investing for years in automation, but successful automation relies on a consistency of task, a luxury FedEx doesn’t have. “One of the challenge we’ve always had in our world of robotics is that every single package is different in terms of size, shape weight, materials,” Ted Dengel, Director of Operations Technology and Innovation at FedEx Ground, told Diginomica.

Challenging or not, it’s an area FedEx must master. With e-commerce volumes expected to increase between 15% and 18% over the next five to ten years, the alternative is to cede ground to the competition.

“Our digital transformation is underway,” Clarke said. Now all FedEx has to do is deliver.

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Technology

Who will control the data from autonomous vehicles?

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Self-driving cars, like many inventions of the data-driven age, collect huge volumes of data, relating to the performance of the car and geospatial information. Who will, and who should, own this data? A new study assesses the importance.

Researchers from Dartmouth College have questioned the ownership of data in relation to autonomous vehicle technology. As self-driving cars advance, there will be a vast quantity of data amassed from navigational technologies. This leads to important questions that need to be asked about data privacy, ownership, cybersecurity and public safety. This is in the context of the mapping data being collected and analysed by the companies that manufacture the navigation technology.

One use that companies will make of the collected geospatial data is to develop and design new maps. These are produced through sophisticated and proprietary combinations of sensing and mapping technologies. These technologies feature continuous, multimodal and extensive data collection and processing.

Such maps will be able to identify the spaces within which people live and travel. While this can help to promote technological innovation, it raises privacy questions. The researchers are calling on the developers of the ‘black boxes’ that will be integral to autonomous cars to be more open as to what happens with the data and for the navigation devices themselves to have greater transparency.

According to lead researcher Professor Luis F. Alvarez León:

“Self-driving cars have the potential to transform our transportation network and society at large. This carries enormous consequences given that the data and technology are likely to fundamentally reshape the way our cities and communities operate.”

The new research paper proposes that governments should enact legislation that allows future autonomous cars users to unlock the ‘black box’ and understand what data is being used for and why. As León states: “oversight of the self-driving car industry cannot be left to the manufacturers themselves.” The paper also calls for developers to use open-source software, which will enable an understanding of what is happening with the data.

There is also a call for greater understanding of security risks and the extent that data can be taken from car navigation systems.

The discussion has been developed in a paper published in the journal Cartographic Perspectives. The research paper is titled “Counter-Mapping the Spaces of Autonomous Driving.”

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Manufacturing

Blockchain can reduce supply chain risks

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In the world of modern businesses, supply chains are becoming increasingly complex and such complexity increases as supply chains cross multiple countries and involve multiple interfaces with third parties. To address this, many are turning to blockchain.

According to Supply Chain Management Review, upstream are the suppliers who create goods and services used in a company’s own operations, such as raw components or materials. The downstream supply chain efficiently distributes a company’s products or services to its customers. Each stage, both upstream and downstream, needs to be proactively managed to minimize quality, financial, confidentiality, operational, reputational and legal risks.

Mounting supply chain challenges for businesses

The challenge faced in the modern, interconnected world is the growing complexity of supply chains. This complexity presents risks, and these include goods falling outside of required storage parameters and the risk of contamination or counterfeiting. It is incumbent upon the manufacturer to perform a risk assessment, which can involve:

  • Understanding which products are transported and to where.
  • Breaking the transportation chain into steps.
  • Assessing each step from sender to recipient. Consider what will happen should delays arise at any stage of the transport route.
  • Assessing for how long the cargo remains at each step.
  • Assessing effectiveness of anti-counterfeiting measures and how these can be assessed? Such as by using anti-tamper proof locks or seals.
  • Considering environmental conditions at each step (this may need to extend to seasonality).
  • Understanding the impact of temperature and humidity.
  • Understanding the suitability of the container.
  • Understanding the impact of shock and vibration on the goods and the packaging. For example, how robust is the packaging? Have drop and rotation tests been performed?

Blockchain offers innovative solution

Many companies are now seeking to address these risks with blockchain technology. In terms of addressing supply chain risks, blockchain enables the transmission of data and information to all users of the supply chain network on a real-time basis. This means that when goods move from point A to point B, all of those in the supply chain are made aware at the same time. Should a change occur, such as a switch to a different distributor every actor is made aware and the system can be configured so that each party would need to agree such a change.

A second benefit is with the secure transmission of correct information between the users of the supply chain network. The cryptographic nature of this builds in security into the information exchange. A third example is with a bridge to the Internet of Things and devices like radio-frequency identification( RFID) transmitters. This is a technology whereby digital data encoded in RFID tags or smart labels are securely and digitally captured by a reader via radio waves. Blockchain can be especially handy in linking physical goods to serial numbers, bar codes, digital tags like RFID.

Based on these benefits, some distributors are searching for ways to leverage blockchain innovations to increase profits and strengthen relationships across the supply chain.

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Transportation

BMW pushes the limits of the IoT

BMW is taking an “adapt or die” approach to the forces threatening to reshape the automotive industry.

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These days, if you’re an established automaker, there are a lot of forces threatening to reshape your industry in ways that could undermine your ability to compete. From the rush to electrify, to the importance of in-cabin tech, to the slow but steady arrival of autonomous vehicles, it’s a highly dynamic time in the auto industry. BMW, the European luxury powerhouse that can trace its roots back to 1916, sits directly in the crosshairs of these disruptive forces.

Taking an “adapt or die” approach, the carmaker has had to investigate new technologies across its entire business. Many of these efforts have involved the IoT, starting with its rethinking of the manufacturing process. According to Stephen Ezell, VP with the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, “BMW has set a goal of knowing the real-time status of all major production equipment at each company that produces key components for each of its vehicles.” To accomplish this, the company’s parts vendors have installed IoT sensors at their facilities, and allowed BMW to access this real-time data, which it uses to augment its own production data. Now, a delay at a provider can be addressed as soon as it becomes known, not days or weeks later.

Related: Stepping into Digital with IOT – 14 Cases

The IoT road isn’t always a smooth one however. As carmakers increasingly connect their vehicles to the internet, cars face the same risk of malicious, unauthorized access as PCs, routers, or other connected devices.

Earlier this year, a team at Keen Security Lab, discovered 14 different vulnerabilities in BMW’s connected cars, stemming from its use of QNX, an embedded OS with an otherwise excellent track record for security. In a similar security vein, car manufacturers like BMW must now wrestle with how ownership of, and access to, a car’s data should safely change hands when a car is re-sold.

[Download] Stepping into Digital with IOT – 14 Cases

These speed bumps notwithstanding, there’s still gold in the IoT hills for BMW. Its recent acquisition of Parkmobile could produce a massively valuable data source, as it tracks the parking and commuting habits of thousands of drivers. As BMW evaluates the future of car ownership — especially the subscription models that are gaining favour — such an IoT investment could prove critical to a successful evolution.

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1 download. 14 Case Studies.

Download this report to learn how 14 companies across industries are demonstrating the reality of IoT-at-scale and generating actionable intelligence.

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